24 June 2015

Appointment of Susan Ryan AO as Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, Canberra


Check against delivery

Well thank you so much Zed and also to Luke Hartsuyker who is here and works very hard as a Minister for Employment Services in particular. Can I particularly recognise former Senator Susan Ryan who we are investing as an ambassador and I never thought I'd be doing that for you Susan, so investing as an ambassador here and can I particularly thank all the team at Koomarri and Miranda for showing us around, Nadine for giving us the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people.

Really lifts my spirits when I meet people who have just that constant smile on their face as obviously a vast number of the team here at Koomarri do and I want to thank you for all the team that you have here for doing what you do, everyday bringing joy into lives of some people that have faced massive challenges during the course of their lives. You bring them hope, you bring them a sense of fulfilment and I think it's really uplifting in so many ways. Can I particularly pay tribute to Barry who is prepared to talk about Restart.

Barry is 58 years of age, went off to study and worked particularly in upgrading his skills in relation to providing advice and support to people involved in social work programmes and a range of other programmes and it's taken great courage for Barry to be a part of this programme. At 58 years of age, he was looking for a job he was, as he just told me, was the one that brought to the attention of Koomarri, the Restart programme.

It is a little frustrating I must admit that you can announce an initiative in a Budget and you think it's just going to happen and in the case of Restart when I announced it in last year's Budget, it was directly targeted at trying to give people over the age of 50 the opportunity to get back into the workforce after being unemployed for what is defined as long-term. This $10,000 initiative for each employee, which goes to the employer as an incentive, was as much about providing financial support to employers that were prepared to have a go, to back someone who had been long-term unemployed over the age of 50, as it was about changing the attitude of employers and Susan and I through Susan's other hat as a Age Discrimination Commissioner, we've talked on numerous occasions about the fact that there is an attitudinal problem that has beset parts of the Australian community towards employing someone over the age of 50. And maybe I'm becoming a bit more mindful of it as the days approach when I am getting to 50. It's not long now and little did I know that seniors are people over the age of 50 so a lot of those that think they're nowhere near seniors, are in fact much closer than they would probably appreciate at this moment.

So it is hugely important as we identified in the Intergenerational Report that we encourage older Australians to participate in work. Now, at the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy was around 55 and they introduced an age pension for people 65. So from a Treasury perspective it was a perfect programme because hardly anyone took it up. Barely anyone lived to 65, but that's obviously changed quite dramatically. In the early '90s when Paul Keating introduced compulsory superannuation, life expectancy was 72. Today it's closer to 82 and by the middle of this century even though officially it's around 92, it's likely to be much higher than that as a result of some of the vast improvements in medicine and pharmaceuticals, but also in the treatment of debilitating disease and I must say through medical research that is delaying the ageing process.

So the good news is we're going to be living longer, we're going to be wealthier, but also there's a lot of people that want to stay involved in work in one form or another and they also want to have another career. There's going to be multiple careers that people have, maybe well into their 80s, maybe even into their 90s. So what we want to do is to help to facilitate that attitudinal change amongst employers and at the same time provide support that encourages those employers to have a go with people over the age of 50.

Susan Ryan is a formidable character. Susan and I have a long history and it was first forged out of the battles about university fees back in the 1980s and ironically I was against them and she was in favour of them and how times change [laughs]. So Susan has always been someone I've had a great deal of respect for and she's the embodiment of someone that never stops giving; either through her political career, where she was incredible giver and was a formidable member of a formidable Cabinet - the Hawke Cabinet was quite formidable and I have a great deal of respect for the reformist zeal of the Hawke and Keating governments, but the Hawke Government in particular. And Susan was a very significant figure in the Hawke Government and has gone on to become Age Discrimination Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner and today I'm announcing that she is becoming our Ambassador for Mature Age Employment and I could think of no one more fitting, no one more articulate, nor well informed who could fill the role than Susan Ryan. She has the capacity to convey a very important message in a pithy manner but most significantly she's not afraid to give advice and we need that advice because as Zed correctly pointed out, Canberra is not Parliament House, Canberra is much broader than that, and all wisdom and knowledge does not come through the air conditioning in Parliament House, it actually comes from engagement with you the people, and through your advice and your constant encouragement to reach higher and to do more.

So Susan thank you so much for agreeing to take on yet another role. Luke thank you so much for your leadership in this area, and he is a formidable advocate for a range of different employment services. And Zed thank you for what you do for the people of the ACT. It is often hard to get a voice heard in Canberra in Parliament House, but I must say Zed is a formidable advocate for the people of the ACT - a formidable advocate, and a vital voice in Government. And finally Miranda thank you so much for hosting us today. Koomarri has a great story to tell, and I feel really honoured - deeply honoured to have met your team, and I thank them for being so welcoming to all of us. Thank you very much.

I will introduce Susan, I do want you to say a few words.